The latest installment in Crytek’s sci-fi franchise certainly looks pretty, but does it have what it takes to stand out in the increasingly populated FPS market?
Game: Crysis 3
Developer: Crytek GmbH/Crytek UK
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Crysis 3 starts off in 2047, some 24 years after the finale of Crysis 2. You take on the role of Prophet, whose personality has taken over the body of Alcatraz, the last numbered sequel’s protagonist. In Prophet’s absence, the CELL corporation have created “Nanodomes” across the planet, in order to eliminate the remaining alien Ceph threat from the earth, and to harness the technology to create a source of unlimited power. Having gained a monopoly, CELL managed to drive millions into debt that they could only pay off by working for them for the rest of their lives. So far, so good with the “Evil corporation handbook” stuff, right? Well, don’t get comfortable, because things don’t stay simple for long. Teaming up with Psycho, Crysis Warhead’s lead, you embark on a series of 7 missions that delve into CELL’s secrets and go deeper into the rabbit hole than most games would delve.
My major issue with the story is that it just feels too contrived at times, and sometimes feels like it’s trying a little bit too hard to avoid being generic, but achieving exactly the opposite. There are twists that it’s easy to spot a mile away, and even as someone not hugely familiar with the overall story, I found myself muttering “Called it!” during a couple of the game’s “shocking” moments.
“But can it run Crysis?” was the mating call of the PC Gaming crowd a few years ago, with the series debut setting a new benchmark for both in game graphics and physics. Whilst the current generation of consoles is no match for the high end PC market, Crysis 3 is a visual treat for hardware that’s over 7 years old. Textures are as sharp as they can be, character models are impressive, and environments are lavishly detailed throughout. A jungle-covered New York immediately conjures up memories of “I Am Legend”, but the stark contrast of the CELL buildings scattered throughout reinforces that this is a Crysis game. The trade-off to having visuals as impressive as these is that the framerate dips to frustrating levels at times, especially during busy action scenes. Every time a checkpoint is reached, particularly in the last third of the game, there is a noticeable half-second or more hitch whilst the game saves your progress. There are times that it really takes you out of the moment, sometimes at key points in the narrative.
One other quibble I’ve got with the graphics in Crysis 3 is that whilst the in-engine stuff is undoubtedly sharp, a number of the cutscenes suffer from horrible compression artifacts and macro-blocking. Whether this is a downside to being kept to a single DVD on the Xbox version, I don’t know, although I suspect this is the case.
If there’s one thing that’s clear from Crysis 3’s soundtrack, it’s that it’s going for scale and atmosphere. Several instances had the tension ratcheted up a few notches with some really clever interplay between the quiet yet intimidating sounds of the environment and the strains of an orchestra that almost make you wonder why they needed Hans Zimmer for the previous game. Weapons sound nice enough, particularly in the final third, and there is a certain satisfaction when your new toy finds its mark with a satisfying “thunk”, but more on that later.
Having not played the first Crysis or Warhead, I didn’t know the character of Psycho at all. The biggest issue I had with the voice acting from the game is that he has been plucked straight out of the “Danny Dyer School of Cockneys”, and there are times when it’s a bit laughable. Equally silly are the Nanosuit’s hushed whispers that tell you when you’ve activated an ability. There are enough HUD elements that get the point across that you’ve flipped a switch (including the predator-esque “nanovision”) that these notifications really grate on you after a surprisingly short period of time.
The gameplay in Crysis 3 has some really neat aspects to it. The first is the Nanosuit, which is a staple of the series. The suit has abilities such as a stealth/cloaking mechanism, and an “armour” ability, which allows you to soak up a little bit more enemy punishment than you’d normally endure. I rarely found myself needing to hit LB to enable the armour (barring the odd mis-step from a high ledge!).On the other hand, the stealth ability is a great feature and allows you to combine it with your nanosuit’s visor mode to scope out a level and “tag” your enemies so that an indicator shows up permanently on the HUD, allowing you to pick them off without being spotted. Early on in the game there is a definite tendency for the game to encourage stealthy play, which is made much more straightforward with the addition of the much-touted new weapon in the game.
As seems to be the current trend, Crytek deemed it necessary to give Prophet a bow in Crysis 3. Whilst it seems that every developer and their dogs are trying to find a way for the central character to show off their archery skills, in Crysis 3 it has a brilliant spot in aforementioned stealth mechanic in the game. I constantly found myself with the visor mode enabled, tagging enemies, enabling the stealth ability and using the bow to silently pick off swathes of enemies before they even knew I was there. Of course, if a soldier sees his comrade drop down, he’ll run over to see what the fuss is, but you soon start to see the enemies that inhabit the environments as walking pincushions. Of course, another benefit of using a bow is that you can retrieve any ammo you fire into an enemy, unless it’s one of the exploding types!
If it weren’t for the bow, I’d be much more tempted to write Crysis 3 off as another generic “pull left trigger, pull right trigger, things die” FPS. It still has the snap-to-nearest-enemy mechanic when you pull the left trigger in, and in my opinion, the weapons don’t feel varied enough within their categories until the late game stage, at which point you’re introduced to some seriously impressive firepower. Once you’ve used one assault rifle, the only differentiator is really the size of the ammo clip.
There’s a few different difficulty settings in Crysis 3, along with a host of collectibles and a few multiplayer modes thrown in for good measure. There’s no online pass to speak of, but the enjoyment of the multiplayer will depend entirely on what you take from the campaign. I only had a few matches and it didn’t really grip me as much as I was hoping it would. Achievement hunters and trophy hoarders will find more than enough to drag them back into the story again, and for any hardcore fans of the franchise, it will undoubtedly be a worthwhile exercise to pick up all of the datapads, as each one fills in a little bit more of the backstory to the campaign. I never really found myself being taxed by Normal mode, except for one of the smaller boss battles toward the end of the game, so those looking for a challenge should probably start on a higher setting.
I enjoyed Crysis 3, but it’s a flawed experience. The campaign is a relatively short affair (I got through it in around 7 hours), but that’s what’s expected of a modern FPS these days I guess. The trade-off for having one of the sharpest looking console games in recent memory is tainted by the poor frame rate at times, and the hitches toward the end of the game get more than a little frustrating. Ultimately, the stealth mechanics and the introduction of the bow have elevated this above the level of “distinctly average shooter” to a level where it can be quite a lot of fun. Fans of the series may well love it, but having come into the game with no real investment in the franchise before, it didn’t particularly leave me wanting more.